• Legislative Agenda: Abbas Ticks another Box with State Police

    Legislative agenda abbas ticks another box with state police - nigeria newspapers online
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    Leke Baiyewu writes about the position of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Tajudeen Abass, for the creation of state police through necessary constitutional amendment by the 10th National Assembly.

    Nigeria is grappling with myriad of security challenges, and the country continues to find solutions on how best to tackle them.

    From insurgency to secessionist insurrection, to banditry, to kidnapping, to armed robbery, to illegal mining and vandalism of oil pipelines and other public assets. The crimes are numerous, and the rates are rising in a fearsome spate.

    One of the solutions that have been proposed, which is now a major topic on the front burners of national discourse, is the decentralisation or unbundling of the current unitary police structure known as the Nigeria Police Force. This proposal has been a subject of national debate for a long time, and Nigerians have been divided by the pros and cons of state or community policing.

    To make Nigerians walk the talk, the 10th House of Representatives under the leadership of the Speaker, Rt. Hon. Abbas Tajudeen, has taken the bull by the horn by seeking the endorsement of Nigerians through their representatives at the National Assembly and the state Houses of Assembly.

    The House is about to test the popularity of state or community policing, and the people – Nigerians – now have the opportunity of determining how their nation should be policed.

    The proposal for state police is part of the ongoing review of the 1999 Constitution by the 10th National Assembly. The Deputy Speaker, Rt. Hon. Benjamin Kalu, who is also the Chairman of the House’ Special Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution, and 14 others, had sponsored the bill seeking to alter the relevant sections of the 1999 Constitution to empower the states to establish their own policing outfits.

    The House had, on February 20, 2024, passed for second reading, the bill seeking to create police structures in each of the 36 states of the federation.

    Consequently, the House organised a National Dialogue on State Policing on Monday, April 22, 2023, on the proposal to decentralise the current NPF and empower states to create and operate police outfits.

    The event was held in Abuja with the theme: ‘Pathways to Peace: Reimagining Policing in Nigeria.’

    The Speaker, in his keynote address at the historic event, noted that the House remains neutral in the debates for and against the creation of state police.

    Abbas stated: “Our mission here is simple: to deliberate the future of policing in Nigeria, reflecting on our historical context and aligning our actions with the demands of our diverse and dynamic populace and daunting contemporary security challenges that have stretched our existing system to a breaking point.

    “The concept of state police involves decentralising law enforcement functions to the state level, thereby allowing for more localised and responsive policing tailored to the unique needs of each state. However, Section 214 of the 1999 Constitution establishes the Nigerian Police Force as unitary police ‘for the Federation or any part thereof.’

    As noted by the Speaker, evolving security challenges and other institutional and structural challenges have severely affected the general effectiveness of the police.

    According to him: “As you are mostly aware, this deficit has resulted in the military engaging in policing functions in all states of the Federation, including the FCT. In turn, this has also overstretched the armed forces and affected their effectiveness in combating other broader security challenges, including those that threaten the territorial integrity of Nigeria.”

    Abbas noted that, whereas most Nigerians agree on the need to reform policing, that is usually where the consensus ends, stating that “there is no agreement on how best to proceed with the reform or the best policing model for Nigeria.”

    He said: “Furthermore, it is also important to remind ourselves that decentralised policing is not alien to Nigeria. Historically, during both the colonial and immediate post-colonial periods, Nigeria operated under a system where local police forces played significant roles in maintaining public order specific to their regions.”

    He noted this was evidenced by the Lagos Police Force, Hausa Constabulary, and Niger Coast Constabulary.

    “The structure was maintained even after the merger of the Northern and Southern Protectorates, with the creation of the Northern Nigeria Police and the Southern Nigeria Police. In fact, under the First Republic, these forces were first regionalised before their subsequent nationalisation. However, subsequent civilian and military governments adopted a rigidly centralised pattern for the Nigeria Police,” he recalled.

    The Speaker said the historical precedent supports the notion that a decentralised approach can be beneficial and effective if properly managed.

    He added: “However, we must proceed with caution. There is a palpable fear among our citizens – a fear of potential tyranny and the misuse of police powers if control is devolved to the state level. These concerns are not unfounded and must be addressed frontally, without bias or sentiments. This emphasises the need for robust frameworks that ensure accountability, transparency, and equitable service delivery across all states. Equally important are setting stringent national standards, establishing oversight bodies, and involving communities in the policing process.”

    While also noting that the House is aware of the divisive and polarising arguments surrounding the issue under review,  Abbas said: “let me state categorically that the House and indeed the National Assembly does not have a fixed position. Our role is to facilitate a dialogue and generate consensus.”

    The roll call at the stakeholders’ engagement had top government functionaries, international community as well as traditional and religious leaders, among other relevant stakeholders. At the event were President Bola Tinubu, who was represented by Vice-President Kashim Shettima to declare the dialogue open; former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and ex-Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, who gave their special remarks in support of the proposal.

    Goodwill messages were delivered by Clement Nwankwo of the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC); Richard Montgomery, British High Commissioner to Nigeria (represented); Annette Gunter, German Ambassador to Nigeria; and Elsie Attafuah, Country Representative, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) (represented).

    The discussants and panellists, most of whom were physically present included Governor of Kwara State and Chairman, Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq; Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Senator George Akume, represented by Permanent Secretary (General Services), Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Dr Nnamdi Maurice Mbaeri; Chief of Staff to the President, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila (represented); and President of the Senate, Senator Godswill Akpabio, who was represented by the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Barau Jibrin.

    Others were the Chief of Defence Staff, General Christopher Musa, who was represented by the Director of Standards and Evaluation, Defence Headquarters, Maj.-Gen. Kunle Ariyibi; Minister of Police Affairs, Senator  Ibrahim Geidam; Inspector-General of Police, Kayode Egbetokun, represented by Assistant Inspector-General of Police (Information and Communications Technology, ICT), Ben Okolo.

    The national dialogue fulfilled House Speaker’s commitment to causing reforms in the security and other sectors.

    -Baiyewu is Chief Press Secretary to Speaker of the House of Representatives

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